Desiring the Highlander
by Michele Sinclair
(Zebra, $6.99, PG13) ISBN 978-1-4201-0854-5
Desiring the Highlander is the third book in Michele Sinclair’s McTiernay brothers series, and Cole McTiernay is our enigmatic hero.   He makes a very unlikely match in this epic tale.

Cole is a cold, hard man.  He watched the death of his best friend at the hands of the English army when he was a boy, and has forsaken friendship and love ever since.  Cole performs his duty to his family, fulfills his responsibility to the men he leads and enjoys the cold pursuit of strategy and weapons training.  One of the very few people that can thaw Cole’s frozen exterior is his sister-in-law, Laurel.  Laurel summons Cole to the family home and asks him to fetch something for her from England.  Laurel is heavily pregnant and highly emotional, so Cole agrees, even though he hates the idea of being on English soil.  When he arrives, he finds that the item he’s fetching for Laurel is a person – specifically, an unwashed, furious woman who doesn’t want to go anywhere under his protection.

Ellenor Howell is an Englishwoman who was living a pretty good life until her father was murdered and her sister and brother-in-law took her in.  Unfortunately, they are horrible people who care only for their selfish interests and Ellenor soon learned that they were trying to sell her off to whoever will marry her.  She tried any strategy she can think of to make herself repellent to men – from not washing, all the way to feigning madness.  Everyone seems to believe her, until the large, serious Highlander shows up and rides off with her into the wilderness.  Ellenor doesn’t know where she’s headed for a while, but soon learns that she will be reunited with her old friend Laurel.

On their journey, Ellenor’s unpredictable, survivalist nature begins to interest Cole, and when she bathes and dresses in clean clothes, he’s stunned by their mutual attraction.  Ellenor trusts Cole simply because he doesn’t seem to want her or need her and his staid, calm manner makes her feel safe with him.  Cole’s even more surprised that Ellenor doesn’t shrink from him, and actual comes to him for comfort as they get to know one another. 

Once they reach the McTiernay family home, Ellenor’s reunited with Laurel but doesn’t know how she’ll fit into the impossibly Scottish way of life.  Cole is waiting to find out if he will be elected laird of a newly formed northern Highland clan who need his army to help bring them to peace.  And just for fun, the new clan has quite a bit of trouble brewing for Cole to arbitrate when he arrives.

Desiring the Highlander has some good points and bad points, and overall I felt neutral after reading the story.

Cole is a great hero; he is uniquely interesting and wonderful to read.  His cold, painfully remote personality covers a roiling, wildly emotional soul.  Cole’s strong enough to master his deep emotions and stick to his promises of retribution and revenge against the English, without realizing the cost he’s paying for them.  Cole’s attraction to Ellenor is well detailed and it sets off a monumental silent battle within him that helps make our hero much more appealing, and human.

Ellenor, our heroine, has a few good points. She is brave, headstrong and witty. She always seems to have something funny or intelligent to add to the conversation, which is nice.  However, she verges on silly in a lot of instances and it becomes fairly tedious by the end of her and Cole’s journey.  She’s supposed to have suffered through an awful time after losing her father and an episode that makes her fearful of men in general.  But she throws herself at Cole from minute one, and believes she’s in love with him within days of their first meeting.  Ellenor is also portrayed as completely ignorant to her attractiveness, which is highly unlikely as the men in the story all seem to be blatantly slobbering all over her.  The other silly part of Ellenor is that she has unfailing, unsupported faith in Cole that she declares very early on.  Cole’s quiet uncertainty about his own abilities as possible clan leader is much more believable than Elle’s sugary sweet, ardent declaration that she just knows he can do anything he wants to.

The chemistry between Ellenor and Cole is hot and cold, which makes it difficult to continue interest in this fairly long, detailed tale.  There are very entertaining moments in their courtship, and a couple of passionate interludes where they manage to escape their grating differences.  However, there are also times when their mismatch is glaringly obvious and the gap between them yawns.  Even a romantic such as myself can’t swallow that love always grows in barren places like Cole’s heart when Ellenor seems shallow and flighty.

Desiring the Highlander is a long, twisted path into Cole and Ellenor’s lives, and while there are some wonderful and funny moments, they are too few and far between. 

--Amy Wroblewsky

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